Popular Chinese app TikTok now in child privacy row

Friday, 01 March 2019, 05:18 Hrs
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Popular Chinese app TikTok now in child privacy row

The popularity of China-based video social networking app TikTok has risen quickly to become a craze among teenagers, especially in India, but not without its share of controversies.

Barely 10 days after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) economic wing Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) called for a ban of the app in India, allegedly for helping spread child pornography content, the operators of TikTok have agreed to pay $5.7 million (nearly Rs 40 crore) to settle the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allegations that the company illegally collected personal information from children.

The FTC's complaint alleged that Musically. now known as TikTok -- violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires that websites and online services directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.

"The operators of Musically --now known as TikTok knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement late Wednesday.

Following the agreement with FTC, TikTok, owned by owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said it had implemented changes to give children in the US separate in-app experience with additional safety and privacy protections.

"The new environment for younger users does not permit the sharing of personal information, and it puts extensive limitations on content and user interaction. Both current and new TikTok users will be directed to the age-appropriate app experience, beginning today," TikTok said in an statement.

According to data insights firm Sensor Tower, TikTok has just crossed the one billion mark for worldwide installs on the App Store and Google Play, including its lite versions and regional variations.

"Approximately 663 million of these installs occurred in 2018," Sensor Tower founder Oliver Yeh said in a blog post this week.

The app is very popular in India, especially among teenagers. Yeh said that in January 2019, 43 per cent of the app's new users were from India, compared to just 9.5 percent in January of 2018.

In fact, 25 per cent of TikTok's downloads to date have come from India, for an estimated total of 250 million there, according to the estimate by Sensor Tower.

According to Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at market research firm techARC, the rise of 4G at dirt cheap price and increased smartphone penetration have contributed to the growth of TikTok in India.

"One more implication is that since video eliminates the language barrier, users could create content in their own languages and genres which have considerable respective user bases," Kawoosa told IANS.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, Swadeshi Jagran Manch co-convener Ashwani Mahajan said that TikTok is known for sharing the details of children and and being an open ground for child pornography and possibly anti-national activities.

Following the allegations by SJM, ByteDance, in an earlier statement shared with IANS said that TikTok was committed to maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment for its users in India.

"We have robust measures to protect users against misuse, including easy reporting mechanisms that enable users and law enforcement to report content that violates our terms of use and community guidelines," it said.

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